Current Edition

current edition

Wyoming Legislation

During the last week of the 2016 Budget Session of the Wyoming Legislature, Wyoming 90 citizen legislators put the finishing touches on a number of bills before sending them to the desk of Governor Matt Mead.

This session, the legislature tacked tough issues ranging from trespass to species concerns and water use to funding mechanisms. The session was dominated by talk of the state’s budget.

A Casper Star Tribune article noted that at the end of the 73-page appropriations bill, the Wyoming Legislature has asked agencies to submit cuts totaling five percent, based on recommendations submitted by Wyoming Governor Matt Mead on Dec. 1.

The bill also cuts agencies by 1.5 percent over the next biennium to account for an anticipated reduction of $477 million in oil, gas and coal revenue over the next two years.

Mead signed the budget bill on March 3.

However, he exercised his right to line item budget and expressed disappointment in the legislature.

“During times of declining revenue, we must make hard choices. It is in these times that our work is most significant,” Mead said. “In my view the Legislature missed a critical opportunity this session to move forward with Medicaid expansion. As a result an additional $30 million needed to be cut from the budget. Needless to say, I am disappointed in this missed opportunity for Wyoming and Wyoming citizens.”

At the end of the week, the Legislature’s Management Council also discussed interim topics for the 2016 interim committees to discuss.

On March 4, Rep. Gerald Gay and Rep. Karl Allred filed a lawsuit against Gov. Matt Mead, Attorney General Peter Michael and legislative leadership over the contracts in the Capitol reconstruction projects.

Lawmakers named in the suit include Sens. Phil Nicholas, Eli Bebout, Chris Rothfuss and Tony Ross and Reps. Kermit Brown, Rosie Berger, Mary Throne and Tim Stubson.

The legislators identified in the suit are members of the Capitol reconstruction project.

Look forward to next week’s Roundup, which will overview the highlights from the 2016 Budget Session in more detail.

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Cheyenne – New legislation to financially assist beginning agricultural producers in Wyoming would have created opportunities for banks to lend money to new farmers and ranchers tax-free through tax-exempt bonds.
    SF34, a bill creating the Beginning Agricultural Producer Finance Authority, authorized the program, which has commonly been known as “Aggie Bonds.” Wyoming Business Council Agribusiness Director Cindy Garretson-Weibel first brought the project to the Wyoming Legislature 10 years ago.
    “We tried for three consecutive years, and last spring the Joint Ag Committee asked what they could do to help producers, and they wanted to bring it back,” she says.
    She says the creation of an entity to manage the tax-free loan program, the Finance Authority, was a requirement by the federal government for banks to qualify for tax-exempt loans.
    “The criteria for eligibility in the program is specific, and set up by IRS guidelines,” says Garretson-Weibel.
    Although the Wyoming House and Senate passed the Aggie Bond program in the 2009 session, original Senate File 34 and Senate Enrolled Act 62 were vetoed by Governor Freudenthal March 13, although he called them an “admirable goal.” He expressed concern with the clarity of the bill’s language.
    According to a press release, in his letter to the Secretary of State, the Governor said it appears the intent of the Legislature was to create a quasi-public corporation to provide financial assistance to “beginning agricultural producers” on more favorable economic terms than they could obtain in the ordinary commercial market.
    One of the bill’s regulations stated the individual cannot have owned more than 30 percent of the median acreage in the county in which they live. “This program is truly designed for the first-time owner/operators,” says Garretson-Weibel of the loans, which could have been used to purchase land or depreciable property such as equipment and breeding livestock.
    “The first step would have been to become involved is working with a local lender,” says Garretson-Weibel.
    Following an agreement between a producer and the lender, the Finance Authority would have approved applications, then worked with the local lender. “It would have been a joint process between the producer, the ag lender and our program,” she explains. “The loans will already have been through the screening process of the bank when the Finance Authority sees them. They’ll look at eligibility – if the applicant is truly a beginning producer.”
    She says the Aggie Bond program would have been a little different than the state investment program because the state isn’t the lending institution – the banks are and the state only provides bonding authority.
    She says the Board would have wanted applicants to have an ag background and be capable of running an agricultural operation. Although the loans were intended for ag lands, facilities and equipment, she says there are exceptions, like a certain amount of the loan can be used for a house on a piece of farm ground.
    The Board would have consisted of a Business Council member as Chairman, a member of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, a livestock producer, a crop producer and one at-large member.
    Because each state is under a bond cap allocation, Wyoming has a $280 million limit on how much money it can use tax-free. Garretson-Weibel says she expected the Aggie Bond program to use $5 to $10 million each year.
    The maximum loan amount is now $450,000, after the 2008 farm bill increased the maximum from $250,000. That also includes an annual adjustment for inflation.
    “This is an admirable goal,” the Governor wrote to the Secretary of State. “However, based on consultation with the Attorney General and private bond counsel, I believe this bill is significantly flawed and fails to achieve its admirable goal.  In addition, the bill’s language is less than a model of clarity.”
    There are 18 programs nationwide for beginning ag producer loans that convene annually, and Garretson-Weibel says Wyoming has already been a part of that through its planning process.
    The Governor has encouraged promoters of the proposal to work with the Attorney General’s Office if they choose to again advance the proposal. Garretson-Weibel says she’ll bring the issue back before the Joint Ag Committee in their spring meeting to determine if there is interest in bringing the bill back to the 2010 Wyoming Legislature.  
    Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Cheyenne — With just over a month to finish preparing for the 2010 session of the Wyoming Legislature, the earliest of legislation has begun appearing on the Legislature’s website where it’s available for public review.
Copies of two bills of particular interest to the agricultural community are among those currently posted. Each of them earned committee support and relate to the value of agriculture to Wyoming.
SF7, carrying a title of “Rangeland health assessments,” earned the unanimous support of the Joint Agriculture Committee of the Wyoming Legislature when they met in Hulett in Sept. 2009.
While similar to legislation that cleared the 2009 Legislative Session and was vetoed by Governor Dave Freudenthal, the 2010 bill takes a new, broader approach. Noting the new approach, in September Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna noted, ““It’s not just about monitoring. Monitoring is a key component, but it’s about the health of rangelands whether they’re private, BLM or state.”
The legislation calls for $420,000 in funding. Distribution of those funds would provide $20,000 to the Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA) to write rules and regulations to guide the program, $200,000 to the WDA to contract for rangeland health assessments and $200,000 to the WDA to contract with the University of Wyoming to provide an additional range management specialist.
Some key concepts as to how the program will work are outlined in the legislation:
“The rangeland health assessment shall be done only with the voluntary cooperation and participation of all participants, including the private landowner, the state grazing lessee and the federal grazing permittee or lessee.”
“The rangeland health assessment shall be conducted on federally managed lands only under a memorandum of agreement with the federal land management agency and with the participation of that federal land management agency.”
“The rangeland health assessment shall include, as necessary, establishment of rangeland monitoring, compliance with federal agency standards and guidelines and participation in the incorporation of assessment outcomes into any federal or state decision affecting livestock grazing.”
“The rangeland health assessment shall include any protections necessary for the management of soil erosion and vegetation loss.”
“This appropriation shall be included in the Department of Agriculture’s 2013-2014 standard biennial budget,” says the legislation in an effort to ensure long-term existence of the program. If SF7 clears the legislative process and earns Governor Freudenthal’s support, it will become law on July 1, 2010.
Senator Eli Bebout (R-Riverton) presented what is now SF13 to the Joint Ag Committee during their mid-September meeting in Hulett where it earned committee support. The legislation calls upon the Wyoming Division of Economic Analysis to beef up its reporting as it relates to natural resources.
The bill instructs the entity to “Establish uniform criteria for collecting, compiling, analyzing, reporting and distributing economic data for all Wyoming counties related to uses of private, state and federal surface and mineral lands, including but not limited to, the optimum use and development of agriculture, grazing, minerals, timber, water, industrial resources, recreation and energy production, transmission and related services. This data shall be updated at least every three years.”
SF13 further directs, “Collect, compile, analyze, maintain, update, report and consolidate into digest form economic data to identify, analyze and measure economic impacts related to proposed state and federal regulatory or administrative actions that may affect uses of private, state and federal surface and mineral lands, including but not limited to, the optimum use and development of agriculture, grazing, minerals, timber, water, industrial resources, recreation, energy production, transmission and related services.”
Mid-September Bebout explained that the legislation would provide counties an important data resource when addressing federal land use planning or other land uses decisions within their borders.
Opening session for the 2010 Budget Session of the Wyoming Legislature is slated for Feb. 10, 2010.
Jennifer Womack can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Cheyenne – On Feb. 12 at 10 a.m., Gov. Matt Mead opened the 64th Wyoming Legislature with his final State of the State address. 

“What a privilege it is to appear before the state of Wyoming, a state that I love,” he said. “I believe our work has built a solid legacy and a bridge to the future.”

As part of that legacy, Mead recognized a wide variety of individuals, from the state’s citizen legislators, Supreme Court justices and statewide elected official to members of the military, the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapahoe tribes, state employees and volunteers, noting each group has been instrumental in Wyoming’s continued success.

Success in office

“As I look back to my first term in January 2011, we have much to celebrate,” Mead said. “We have a smaller budget, fewer employees, fewer rules and fewer regulations. We have built our rainy day savings, improved technology and created efficiencies.”

Mead also cited development of policies like the Wyoming Water Strategy, Wyoming Energy Strategy and more that have started long-term processes and will continue to impact the state into the future. 

“We have not only connected the state with the installation of fiber, but we’ve also created connection between many industries and experts in a number of fields,” he said. “We can celebrate the delisting of wolves and grizzlies and the non-listing of sage grouse.”

While success has been seen, Mead also encouraged the state to recognize its success but also to realize there are more challenges moving forward. 

“We must stay abreast of the opioid crisis,” he said, noting issues like suicide and homelessness continue to plague the state. “In the last seven years, we’ve never lost sight of trying to improve Wyoming and the services provided to our citizens. It’s important for us to continue this work.”

Mead looked at work done at the University of Wyoming and centers around the state to continue to facilitate technology growth and development, including the opening of the Integrated Test Center in Gillette and funding for the Science Initiative.

He also noted supported for improvements to the State Hospital in Evanston and Life Resource Center in Lander, saying, “We must move forward with the time and constrained revenue.”

In retrospect

Before looking to the future, Mead said it is important to reflect on the past, stating budget reductions have occurred in four of the last state budgets. 

“The Department of Family Services and Department of Health have suffered,” he said. “Other cuts to Corrections and the Wyoming State Fair have been detrimental.” 

As the fiscal outlook for Wyoming continues to improve, Mead noted the Joint Appropriations Committee continues its work, and there are bright spots in the future. 

“2017 was a year to remember, for the eclipse, increased emphasis on outdoor activities and ENDOW,” Mead said.

The historic 2017 eclipse, which marked the first eclipse since the early 1900s in the state, boosted revenue by an estimated $63 million.

“More events are coming,” Mead said. “This year, Wyoming will celebrate 150 years of the Fort Bridger Treaty, and in 2019, we’ll celebrate the 100th anniversary of the law that gave Wyoming Women the right to vote.” 

Additionally, the state has emphasized outdoor technology, recognizing the importance of hunting and shooting sports as important to the state’s heritage. 

“We have had the opportunity to do a number of things that are very special,” he said.

Diversity

“The energy downturn has made us take a hard look at the state’s economy,” Mead remarked, noting that fall of 2014 marked the beginning of difficult times for the state with the energy downturn.

“Looking at history, we see the state has endured,” he said. “We’ve seen diversification efforts, usually coinciding with one governor’s term, and we saw the potential for expanding Wyoming’s economic base.”

This year, Mead said he spearheaded ENDOW, which provides a 20-year economic strategy to grow and expand the economy. 

“The legislature did great work to fund the initiative, and ENDOW has taken off,” he said. “I hear enthusiasm, particularly from young people, but I also hear skepticism. We must listen to both camps, but I reject the notion that Wyoming is incapable of determining our own destiny.”

Mead noted, “I’m pleased to report that revenue forecasts have improved. Beyond money, the people of Wyoming have remained steadfast during the downturn. It is our citizens that kept us strong.”

“With our great citizens, improved revenues, large savings, well-funded pension plant, investments in the future and more investments on the horizon, the state of the state is strong,” Mead emphasized.

This session

As he looks to the future, Mead noted reductions in government and the budget have been largely positive, but he cautioned the Wyoming Legislature from making excessive cuts and offering insufficient appropriations. 

“We must recognize we can put our money at work to address shortages,” he said. “The operating budget for Department of Health and Department of Family Services have seen cuts that have gone too far. Over-cutting has created other concerns.”

He also said cuts to the Wyoming State Fair and Wyoming Livestock Board have been excessive, and funding for education needs to be solved. 

Mead continued, “We have the opportunity to right-size the budget right now. We never want to spend too much, but if we spend too little, that is a problem, as well.” 

“Together, overall, we’ve done a good job investing for the future,” Mead emphasized. “We have to take the next step and seize the moment to get it done.” 

Thanks to Wyoming

At the end of his address, Mead commented, “Thank you, Wyoming, for the land and people I’ve had the privilege of serving.”

“Wyoming has always been a land of discovery, beautiful to the eye and populated by individuals with integrity,” he said. “Wyoming is like no other place on earth. We’re so fortunate to live here.” 

Mead concluded. “I believe this century will be the best for this state, with innovation, diversification, prosperity, natural beautfy and the people to make it so. May God continue to bless this wonderful Wyoming.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Washington, D.C. – On July 12, the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands, chaired by Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), held an oversight hearing targeting the importance of grazing on public lands and in rural America. 

The hearing, titled “The Essential Role of Livestock Grazing on Federal Lands and Its Importance to Rural America,” brought Idaho Lieutenant Governor Brad Little, University of Montana Professor Dave Naugle, Western Watersheds Project Executive Director Erik Molvar and Arizona Farm Bureau President Stefanie Smallhouse to the Longworth House Office Building in Washington, D.C. to discuss the challenges associated with grazing, as well as the impact of grazing on the land. 

McClintock commented, “We’ve already seen the damage a policy of benign neglect has had on our forests, and now we see this same destructive ideology being turned against our rangelands.” 

“These attacks, orchestrated by well-funded political groups, are creating a paralyzing environment which sound scientific land management decisions are abandoned – both by ranchers and public lands managers – for fear of endless lawsuits filed by serial litigants,” he continued.

The Subcommittee strives to restore access to and management of public lands and to restore the federal government as a good neighbor to communities impacted by public lands, and McClintock said, “Cattle grazing is integral to all three objectives.”

Longevity and conservation

Little commented that his priority is to ensure his fifth-generation ranching family is able to continue ranching on the land.

“One of the things I’ve learned in life – in both politics and ranching – is change is inevitable, but adaptation is necessary for survival,” he said, noting that survival of ranches is necessary for management of public lands, including protecting the range through watershed enhancement, fuels reduction and more. “Ranchers are an indispensable part of management of public lands.” 

“Since the dawn of the West, ranchers have been involved in managing land with public agencies,” Little continued. “Unlike government administrators, who are only there for a few years, ranchers have been on the land for generations.” 

Little provided examples where the removal of ranchers from the land has resulted in wildfires and loss of access to public lands. 

“If ranchers are regulated off, our country loses the most effective and efficient public lands managers,” he added. “Ranchers with grazing permits provide an irreplaceable service to the land, the taxpayer and to those who enjoy our public lands. The regulatory environment from Washington, D.C. plays a critical role in determining the efficacy of not only those benefits but also the economies and communities that depend on them.” 

Wildlife

Naugle noted that wildlife conservation is compatible with ranching, going further to say grazing has actually helped wildlife population, including sage grouse, which is his focus. Naugle also serves as the independent, third-party science advisor to USDA’s Sage Grouse Initiative and says scientists have evaluated the effectiveness of prescribed grazing, along with other practices, publishing results in 37 peer-reviewed publications within scientific literature. 

“Three of these publications evaluating prescribed grazing provide new scientific evidence that further supports the importance of ranching in sage grouse conservation,” Naugle said, noting that work of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) based on research has been modified to reflect that perspective. “Because grazing management still matters for a host of ecological reasons, NRCS will continue implementing grazing plans that help keep ranchers profitable and productive, and the agency remains open to new and proven ways to reduce persistent threats to grouse through sustainable grazing.” 

Other side

Also testifying during the hearing, Eric Molvar, executive director of Western Watersheds Project (WWP), said, “I would like to point out grazing is not universally good for public lands, and in fact, it has many detrimental effects.” 

Molvar continued that cattle are “mal-adapted and ill-suited” for western public rangelands. He asserted the result is stream degradation, because cattle congregate on streambanks.

Further, Molvar blamed livestock for the spread of cheatgrass, which has been the cause of wildfires across the West. 

“While oil and gas development garners the greatest amount of media attention, as it represents a spectacular environmental train wreck, livestock grazing is like a slow and invisible cancer that is insidiously and inexorably killing native ecosystems over vast areas,” Molvar said.

McClintock asked Molvar if grazing should be banned outright on public lands, and Molvar responded, without solutions to the “severe detriments” from livestock grazing, it should be considered whether cattle grazing has a place on the landscape. 

Conversations with Congressmen

In open questioning, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) asked Molvar about the grazing rates on public lands, to which Molvar said rates are too low. 

“Why are we vastly subsidizing 22,000 families in the West to produce a product with so many detriments?” asked Molvar, further asserting that rates have only increased by six cents per animal unit month (AUM). 

Molvar additionally noted that grazing trespassing is “rampant.” 

“It’s time that Washington starts implementing some accountability in their livestock grazing,” Molvar said, suggesting that federal rates should mirror private land grazing rates, which can we upwards of $20 an AUM. 

However, Bishop asked if the quality of lands were comparable between BLM lands and private grazing lands. 

Little explained that homesteads were developed around water sources, while public lands are often very dry, providing less available grass that is also lower quality. 

Other questions

“I appreciate ranching has long-supported many families and lent a unique character to our country, but at the same time, we have to balance that with the multiple use mandate and sustainability of our public lands,” commented Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.), mentioning that a bill currently in Congress would provide for buy-out of allotments, at a fair market price, to willing sellers. “Would a voluntary buy-out program be beneficial for family ranches?” 

“We would never advocate for wholesale buy-out of permits,” Little said. “If we permanently close off an allotment, we lose that tool and the initial attack we have for fires, noxious weeds and other rapscallions that may be on the land.”

While voluntary buy-out of allotments in small-scale, specific situations might make sense, he cautioned that the negative effects may far outweigh benefits. 

“Buy-out is a move that provides the loss of grazing as a tool, and this should never be the first choice,” Little commented. “It should be the last choice, because some resources are just too valuable.” 

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..